Free Agency: early fantasy winners and losers

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If you have a fantasy championship on the line and in your current starting lineup, these players might just fulfill your fantasy dreams.
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The frenzy is upon us! Like chess pieces shuffling across state lines, the NFL Free Agency period officially opened at 4pm ET. Dozens of moves have been made, and their potential fantasy impacts have been cataloged below. Overall, things are trending positively for fake football fans. I’ll be rapidly reacting as situations develop over the next few days and weeks so be sure to check back early and often.

Note: Matt Forte is not listed because I want to see what happens with QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and RB Bilal Powell before taking a stance. Additionally, until I know another RB won’t be added in Miami, I’ll wait to forecast Jay Ajayi’s fantasy future. Do know, however, that I’m tracking both situations closely. Oh, and if you're wondering about DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews, I wrote about them earlier in the week

WINNERS:

Marvin Jones, WR, Detroit Lions
After a foot injury robbed him of a 2014 campaign, Jones fantasy relevance returned as the Bengals No. 2 receiver this past year. Scoring 10 TDs in 2013, Jones found the end zone four times in 2015. In a system rich with offensive weapons, Jones excelled as Cincy’s second most targeted option in the passing game, but lost out on red zone looks to TE Tyler Eifert, who was the favorite behind A.J. Green in scoring situations.

At 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, Jones is a tall receiver who can high point the ball and make some noise in the red area of the field. He won’t be able to fill Calvin Johnson’s shoes in Detroit, but he will have a favorable fantasy impact. The WR38 overall last season, Jones’ targets (especially in the end zone) figure to rise dramatically as the team’s No. 1 receiving option, ahead of Golden Tate. While Tate is a beast after the catch, he doesn’t have the physical profile to exist as a legitimate red zone threat. There is a chance that TE Eric Ebron could steal some of those looks from Jones, but as of yet, the youngster’s hands have proven to be a liability.

Assuming Detroit does not draft a wideout in the first round, Jones offers top-fifteen appeal. He’s a high-end WR2 with massive upside. Given Jim Bob Cooter’s ability to make the Lions offense hum, Jones has found an ideal landing spot for himself and fantasy owners.

Lamar Miller, RB, Houston Texans
The heavens opened up and rained down fantasy mana to the most patient of owners. OK, I’ll admit it… I have a few shares of Miller in dynasty leagues. And his move to Houston clearly thrills me. Loosed from the shackles of South Florida, Miller figures to run free in Houston. A slippery and sure-handed back, the four-season vet has posted over 1,200 total yards and top-ten fantasy numbers in back-to-back seasons.

Replacing a banged up Arian Foster, Miller projects to be the centerpiece of the Texans backfield. While former coaching staffs have been reluctant to elevate the 5-foot-10 and 225-pound RB to workhorse status, the Texans offense (which ran the most rushing plays in 2014) had zero issues letting a similarly sized Foster dominate the running game.

A fantastic boost to Miller’s stock, this move could allow the almost-25-year-old to crack the top-five players at the position (he was the FF RB6 overall last year). If he stays healthy, a 1,400 total yard and 13 TD season is entirely within reach.

Ladarius Green, TE, Pittsburgh Steelers
Let’s hear it for another offseason rife with articles extolling Green’s breakout potential. An athletic freak, Green played second fiddle to Antonio Gates for four seasons. In 2013, the measurables monster teased fantasy owners, flashing his big-play ability. Gates’ indestructability, however, prevented Green from delivering on the promise of TE1 status.

Released from the vet’s hulking shadow, Green has a real shot to produce in Pittsburgh. Adding size and speed to the Steelers high-flying offense, the 6-foot-6 TE should flourish in the stead of the now retired Heath Miller. Ready to absorb between 70 – 80 targets, Green stands to rack up 650 yards and 6 TDs in 2016, placing him amongst the mid-range starters at the position.

Travis Benjamin, WR, San Diego Chargers
From the cold climes of Cleveland to the sunshine of SoCal, Benjamin is the Chargers’ newest deep threat. Replacing Malcom Floyd, the former Brown is likely to lineup opposite Keenan Allen, while Stevie Johnson mans the slot.

A speedster who ran the 40-yard-dash in 4.36 seconds at the 2012 NFL Combine, Benjamin should improve slightly on his five TD campaign in 2015. However, his lack of consistent production is going to be a headache for fantasy owners. A WR3 for purposes of the virtual game, Benjamin’s signing in San Diego moves the needle more in terms of real, rather than fake, football.

Ultimately, the ripple effect of his addition is a positive one for both Gates and Allen, which is why he’s included under my “winners” column. The vertical aspect of his game should open things up for the two aforementioned weapons, giving each of them a slight up-tick in value. Gates will remain a low-end TE1, while Allen, if he can stay healthy, should maintain WR1 status.

LOSERS:

T.J. Yeldon, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
The thirty-sixth overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft, Yeldon finished his rookie campaign just outside of the top-25 fantasy players at the position. Averaging a respectable 4.1 YPC, the Alabama product’s numbers suffered from a lack of goal line opportunities. Assumedly noting Yeldon’s inability to play to his size, the Jags added power back Chris Ivory, truncating the youngster’s fantasy appeal moving forward. Now in a timeshare with Ivory (in which he’s likely to receive 10-12 touches per game), Yeldon projects to remain an RB3 in 2016.

Chris Ivory, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
I had hoped Ivory might go to the Titans, but instead he’ll be sharing the workload with T.J. Yeldon in Jacksonville. From a fantasy perspective this hurts both player’s potential. Due to Ivory’s hard-nosed running style, however, the former Jet should vulture much of the goal line. Reportedly set to earn $6 million dollars a year, Ivory is getting paid like a starter. I expect his touches to reflect his salary, and am forecasting 12-14 totes per game. A low-end RB2, Ivory’s fantasy success appears exceedingly TD dependent. In an early wager, I’d anticipate six end zone celebrations in the coming year for the bruiser.

Follow Liz on Twitter @LizLoza_FF